MUZAFFARNAGAR: Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to draw crowds in the western Uttar Pradesh belt, but the same enthusiasm is missing for BJP candidates in fray from this part of the state.
"I am a Modi fan and I voted for BJP in the last election, but no work has been done here. The BJP candidate who won in the name of Modi from here is hardly seen. We cannot even complain," says a petrol pump worker Satbir Yadav from Saharanpur.
Similar sentiments were echoed by residents of Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Kairana and Ghaziabad which go to polls in the first phase of the seven-phased Lok Sabha polls. A total of eight Lok Sabha seats in the state will go to polls in the first phase on April 11.
The voters here praise Modi, but are not satisfied with the work of BJP candidates. A BJP office-bearer from Muzaffarnagar, who wished to remain anonymous, lamented that the party under pressure from RSS re-nominated Muzaffarnagar MP Sanjeev Balyan this election.
He said because of this, other sitting MPs in western UP also got re-nominated. He said the decision to repeat the sitting MPs may cost the party dearly. Balyan is one of the accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. He had won by more than 4 lakh votes riding on Modi wave in 2014.
Another cause of worry for the saffron party is Jat community's affinity to RLD chief Chaudhary Ajit Singh as well as the anger of sugarcane growers against the BJP-led state government.
Meanwhile, the SP-BSP-RLD opposition feels that the alliance will benefit from division of Jat votes this time, and that the Muslim, Dalits and backward sections will vote for them. Supporting the RLD chief, Ravindra Ahlawat, who runs an eatery on the Delhi-Muzaffarnagar National Highway, said Jats have three main issues.
"Firstly, the Centre did not treat our leader (Chaudhary Ajit Singh) well. He was forced to vacate his official bungalow in Delhi. Secondly, the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh did not adequately compensate cane growers. And, third, the Jat reservation notified by the UPA-led central government was set aside by the Supreme court under the current BJP regime," he said.
The apex court had in 2015 set aside a 2014 notification of the then UPA government to include Jats in the central list of Other Backward Classes (OBC) in nine states for quota benefits.
"I want to see Modi as PM again, but Ajit Singh will win from here," Ahlawat said. In Baghpat, the BJP has fielded Union minister Satyapal Singh against the RLD chief's son Jayant Choudhary.
Congress has not fielded any candidate from the seat. Here also 'Modi wave' is facing tough competition from anti-incumbency against sitting MP and the joint front put up by the opposition, just like in Muzaffarnagar, Ghaziabad and Saharanpur.
Interestingly, people from diverse sections of society are in awe of Modi's work. "My vote will go to Modi," says Haider Ali. He runs a small tea shop in Muzaffarnagar.
But, when one inquires deep about Modi's popularity among minorities, people said the 2013 violence between Jats and Muslims still haunted the region.
They added that the weaker sections among the minorities are afraid to express their views against the ruling dispensation.
Akshay Kumar, working as a carpenter in Khatka Heri village, also said that he will vote for Modi. He, however, did not know the name of the BJP candidate from the region. Kumar said the law and order situation of the state has improved after the BJP came to power.
If BJP workers are angry over repeating candidates in many seats, they are equally agitated over denying ticket to former BJP MP Hukum Singh's daughter Mriganka Singh from Kairana.
Mriganka is an influential Gujjar name in the area. She fought on a BJP ticket in the Kairana bypoll which was necessitated by the death of her father. She, however, lost to Opposition alliance candidate Tabassum Hasan.
The BJP has fielded another Gujjar leader and MLA Pradeep Chaudhary from the seat. Local BJP leaders, however, feel that a section is disenchanted over denial of ticket to Mriganka. In a bid to placate its support base among the Gujjars, the BJP welcomed community leader and SP MLC Chowdhary Virendra Singh into the party fold.
BJP analysts, however, maintain that reported discontent towards party candidates among the voters won't be an issue. They say in the last polls, except Saharanpur, BJP candidates in all seven constituencies in this region defeated their rivals by more than 2 lakh votes.
In Saharanpur, the BJP candidate won by 65,000 votes. Congress stood second here. BJP strategists feel there may be a dip in BJP's vote margin this time, but the party can still reap benefits of 'Modi wave'.
Johny from Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan' village Chutmalpur said, "BJP can win this time only when Muslim votes get split. It is not possible in Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Kairana and Ghaziabad.
And, it is very likely in Saharanpur and Bijnore. Though a section of Dalits supports Modi, a majority of the community will vote for Mayawati."